The first one is here, if you're curious.
Sometimes it seemed important for Barry to say his name aloud. Speaking aloud also reminded Barry he was in possession of a voice, however craggy and cracky it was.
“Barry,” Barry said into the void of his apartment one grey and drizzling Wednesday afternoon. “Bar. Ry.”
The apartment did not respond, as expected, but Barry's point was made all the same: He was Barry, he had a voice, and therefore he had lungs, a heart, and all the organs needed to justify both a name and an ability to speak even in a vacuum.
“Vacuum,” Barry said next. Two 'u's. “Barry.” Two 'r's.
Barry was sitting at his computer, working. For years he'd suffered in a cubicle in an office downtown, working his way up to the level where an office became pointless; several months ago, his manager broke the news to him: “Bar, we've decided to promote you.... raise... work from home... weekly meetings via Skype... lucky bastard...”
Barry accepted the promotion without hesitation. “Nothing I do here that I can't do from home,” Barry told his manager.
“One thing you can do from home,” the manager joked, “is work in your underwear.” Then a pause. “Please, though, when we do the Skype thing, make sure you're wearing pants.” Another pause. “And a shirt. Please.”
Barry always wore pants while working. He felt there should be a modicum of business decorum. One 'u' for each word.
The apartment, again, responded to his name without responding at all. Barry glanced at a framed poster of a Picasso painting to his left. It hung on the wall in a way framed posters usually do, which is to say it seemed, always, on the verge of collapse.
It also hung there in a way Picasso prints always hang, which is to say it seemed to vibrate with kinetic energy. Then Barry returned his gaze to the computer screen. A PowerPoint slide. There was a picture of a puppy asleep atop a pile of empty water bottles, and the heading of the slide was “How Can We Make the Uncomfortable Comfortable?”
The entire PowerPoint presentation was due in a half-hour. Barry had no ideas, but he at least had a name. And a pair of pants.
What he did not have was weed, which, as even his manager knew, was a vital component to Barry's work. Tucked into Barry's paycheck each week was an allotment called “Discretion,” which was tax-free for reasons Barry never questioned, and it was a considerable allotment, and it afforded Barry one of the alternate uses for his craggy voice. Barry reached for his iPhone and spoke to it: “Siri,” Barry said. “Call Himself.” After the call was made, Barry texted his manager: “Need more time on the pres. Two hours.”
The manager responded: “Fine. But 1 hr better than 2.”
Barry in pants and shirt, with socks and shoes, no underwear, a hat to hide his mess of hair, a messenger bag, a jacket. This Barry dressed and prepared exited his apartment for the first time in two days—opening the door, Barry heard the apartment sigh as if he'd just opened, from the inside, King Tut's tomb—and hurried down the first of three sets of staircases. As he went down, Albert was going up.
Albert was younger than Barry. He was new to the city and unsure why he'd even moved there. Barry knew Albert lived in the apartment above, with two roommates and three cats, but that was about all Barry knew of Albert.
“Hey,” Barry said.
“How's it going,” Albert responded.
“Not well. I'm out of weed, and have a deadline,” Barry said. Then he clarified: “I only smoke when working. I'm not a stoner, except by trade.”
“Cool.” Albert was polite enough not to point out that Barry's ample frame was blocking his ability to climb the stairs. “So,” Albert said.
Barry, mid-stair, hands on both the wall and the railing, felt something should be said to prolong the conversation, which was his first conversation with a non-computer-screen human in weeks. “So how are the cats?”
“I don't know. They're not my cats.” Albert made a gesture indicating a desire to continue up the stairs.
“Oh.” Barry understood. He realized conversation was not required. His left hand slipped from the railing, and his right slipped from the wall. “Weed,” Barry said. “Deadline,” Barry said.
Albert, already moving past Barry, took a few steps beyond before questioning this odd collection of words. “Hey. Hey! What the fuck does all that mean?”
For the first time in months, Barry found himself in a position, quite literally, of looking up to someone. Albert was near the landing, hands splashed across the railing and the wall, bent at the hip, looking back down at him. If it were a PowerPoint slide, the heading would be, “Exasperation: How Do We Make Youth Less Exasperated?”
“I have a deadline.” Barry shrugged. “We all have deadlines, but mine is in an hour.”
“I meant the weed part.”
“Seriously? Weed. I work best when... What?”
Albert descended the stairs he'd just ascended, and leaned in to Barry. “I live with two girls and three cats. I just moved here. I have no fucking idea where to get weed. I do ten million things all day, every day, and they're all ten million things I like doing but when I come home, I would like... you know?”
“I'll speak to Himself,” Barry said. "If he says it's okay, I'll give you his number.”
“It's okay if not.”
“No, I'll see if he's okay with it.”
“You could just sell me some.”
“No, I don't do that.”
“But it's the same thing.”
“No, it isn't. Puppies on empty bottles.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
Barry took a moment. “I'm not sure. But it means something. I gotta go.”